Students look ahead to March for Life 2019
When senior Matt Connell looks back on his previous experiences at the March for Life, one of the most poignant moments occurs every year toward the end of the March on Constitution Avenue. Passing the Capitol Building, as the road slopes upwards towards the steps of the Supreme Court, he recalls turning around at the top of the hill in awe of the seemingly endless stream of marchers behind him, all bearing witness to the pro-life movement.
“There is no way you can feel alone in the pro-life movement after experiencing that,” Connell, vice president of communications for the executive board of the Right to Life Club, said. “It serves as a reminder of the strength and vitality of the pro-life movement in our nation, and it is a sign of hope that we will ultimately build a culture of life that respects all life, including the unborn.”
This Friday, Connell, along with around 850 Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross students, faculty and staff, will again make the journey to Washington D.C. to participate in the 46th annual March for Life.
Notre Dame Right to Life — the largest club on campus — organizes the trip each year with support from the de Nicola Center for Ethics and Culture. The Right to Life club also offers a variety of pro-life events throughout the year, Connell said, including group prayer services and service events, which include free babysitting for graduate students with children, educational lectures about the pro-life movement and more.
“There’s a lot of really serious attacks on life in our nation and around the world, chief among them abortion,” Connell said. “It’s really important to bear witness to the dignity to every human life and remind people what a gift it is to have life.”
This year, 16 buses will depart from campus Thursday night, senior and March for Life team coordinator of the Right to Life club Dan Lindstrom said. Due to a predicted snowstorm, all buses will leave D.C. on Friday night and return to campus Saturday morning.
The annual trip to the March for Life is the largest student event on campus. Lindstrom said that the group is encouraging 2019 attendees to think of the trip as a pilgrimage.
“It’s really uncomfortable,” Lindstrom said. “Bussing through the night twice and staying on a parish gym floor isn’t glorious. Officially giving it the title of pilgrimage gives people the right direction for how they should view what they’re doing.”
Lindstrom said he hopes that students on the March will experience a spiritual awakening in spreading the pro-life message.
“Giving it the more spiritual aspect, the goal is to open hearts,” Lindstrom said. “It’s not only opening the hearts of pro-choice people, it’s to open the hearts of the people on the March too.”
In addition to students, around 75 Notre Dame faculty and staff will be in attendance at the March, including University President Fr. John Jenkins. Jenkins will march with the Notre Dame cohort and preside over a mass for Notre Dame affiliated marchers on Friday morning at St. Agnes Parish in Arlington, Virginia.
Petra Farrell, who has served as the culture of life program manager at the de Nicola Center since 2017, said that the center offers transportation reimbursement and assistance with lodging for faculty, staff or graduate students who wish to attend the march.
The number of student participants fluctuates throughout the years, Farrell said, but the record for attendees was set in 2018 with over 1,000 Notre Dame, Saint Mary’s and Holy Cross student participants.
The theme of the 2019 March for Life is “Unique from day one: pro-life is pro-science,” which Farrell, Connell and Lindstrom all believe fits very well with Notre Dame’s identity as a Catholic University.
“A lot of people often think of the pro-life movement as a really religious movement, and sure, there are a lot of religious people within the movement, but it’s not only animated by the religious background of its members but also by science, by reason, by philosophy and all sorts of disciplines that go into creating a holistic view of the pro-life position,” Connell said.
“Science does show that life begins at conception,” junior Morgan Chichester, president of the on-campus pro-life group Belles for Life, said.
Chichester acted as a promoter and liaison between the Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame groups in order to ensure that Belles were present on the March.
“I am very passionate about being pro-life and understanding the real reasons, and how to argue with someone who is pro-choice. [It] is very important and I feel like you learn a lot of information by going on a trip like this,” College freshman Rachel Ledyard said. “I also feel like there is power in numbers and it is amazing how many people show up to events like this and how moving that is.”
Freshman Keely Carney will be joining her on the trip but for less analytical and more passionate reasons.
“I feel like there is a flame or a candlestick inside my heart about this and I want to ignite that flame and light it, so that I am so passionate and so on fire for it that this something that I can truly strongly stand up for for the rest of my life because it is something that I believe in,” Carney said.
The students planning to go shared emotions of excitement and empowerment. Chichester wanted to provide an avenue for girls to express their political, religious and moral opinions.
“I am excited that girls want to take a stand on this and I hope that it makes change,” Chichester said.
The March for life Rally, which proceeds the march itself, takes place at the National Mall and features speeches by politicians and activists.
“At the March you will hear testimonies from people who either went through an abortion and figured out that that was not the right decision or people who said no to that and really went after life,” Chichester said.
Chichester sees the pro-life stance as not only protecting those in the womb, but all people facing undignified and vulnerable lives in today’s world.
“This is shining a light on the issue of abortion, but is also promoting the beauty and dignity of life to be valued. It is shining a light on it, it’s getting people together to create change whether that is legislatures or just in people’s hearts,” she said.
The students attending the March for Life are fulfilling the Saint Mary’s core values, especially justice, Chinchester said.
“We are fighting for justice for those who do not have a voice. That is something that Saint Mary’s stands for the vulnerable the marginalized,” Chichester said.
Throughout the weekend, speakers for the program include both Republican and Democratic congressmen, in addition to former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson, Ben Shapiro and Archbishop Joseph Naumann, chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops pro-life committee, among others.
“As one of the most reputed institutions of higher learning that’s Catholic, I think we have an obligation to show how much Catholic teaching and reason fit with one another,” Lindstrom said.
For students unable to attend the March for Life in D.C., a prayer service organized by the Alumni Association will be held at the Grotto at 12:30 p.m. on Jan. 28.
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated where the March for Life begins. The march starts on Constitution Avenue between 12th and 14th Streets and ends at the Supreme Court.